The day finally arrived for our travel to Chiangmai. I asked Mom if we could travel by train and she (somewhat reluctantly) agreed. After all, there are now ten daily flights from Bangkok to Chiangmai and even large, luxury motorcoaches that make the trip almost hourly. The train takes fourteen hours to travel from Bangkok to Chiangmai, but when I was young, it was the only way that we traveled. We went to Hua Lampong, the main train station, several days early to purchase our tickets and we reserved two seats in a Second Class Air Conditioned Sleeper car. At the station, we were told that there were no First Class accommodations available, but we were told that we would be in a room to ourselves – a fact we (very skeptical) confirmed with him several times before we purchased the tickets. We thought that, perhaps, what we had known as First Class accommodations in the past were now Second Class accommodations and new First Class accommodations had been added. We paid 1,600 Bht for our seats (850 Baht for the lower berth and 750 for the upper berth). The trip still takes fourteen hours.
On the day we were to leave, Acharn Rahwee (Acharn is a title given to all who have a university degree.) from the Church of Christ in Thailand offered us the use of a van to transport us to the station – an offer we gladly accepted as we had eight bags to transport. (Yes, we left the rest in Bangkok.) We traveled in this luxurious van to the station, where a porter helped us transport our bags to the platform. Our train had not arrived yet, but it was an hour before departure time, so we did not worry. The porter left our bags on the platform and told us he would be back to help us onto the train when it arrived at the platform. Acharn Rahwudh and Kuhn Saisudah from the Guest House had come with us and refused all our efforts to send them on their way with our profuse thanks for their help. So, they sat with us in the stifling heat and airless confines of the platform, inhaling the sweet fumes of diesel engines, and waited for our train, which did not show up until 7:35 PM, the time it was scheduled to leave Bangkok. Our porter returned and loaded our bags and, once we were settled, Acharn Rahwudh and Kuhn Saisudah finally wished us safe travels and left us. The train finally did leave at 9:00 PM, almost 90 minutes behind schedule. (Not unusual for Thai trains.)
Well….. a Second Class Sleeper is a Second Class Sleeper. Some things never change! We had an upper and lower berth in a compartment that was open to an aisle that ran the length of the car. With eight bags, the three medium-sized bags fit on a shelf above the aisle, the largest sat in the center between two bench seats (designed for four people), and the rest sat on the seats with us. There were two toilet rooms at the far end of the car, both of them containing Thai-style toilets where you squat down to do whatever you need to do. Toilet paper is provided, though it often runs out before the journey is over. (Fortunately, we had remembered to bring our own roll with us.) Across from the toilet are two sinks with running water and soap. (Again, we brought our own wash cloths and soap.) You have no idea how many times I apologized to Mom for all this. It was not what we had in mind and neither one of us understand what the man in the station meant, unless he meant that the compartment for four (with two upper and two lower berths) was a “room”. We communicated our confusion to the porter and asked if there were any remedies. He was a kind and generous man who jumped off the train at Bang Sue station to get some answers for us. He learned that, indeed, there were no First Class accommodations, but he was able to covert our upper berth seat into a lower berth, for which we paid him the difference. No one else came on the train to claim either of the upper berths during the trip, so we had the entire compartment to ourselves, but it was not what we had anticipated.
Fortunately, we had eaten a large meal with Acharn Rahwudh and Kuhn Saisudah before we left the Guest House, so all we ordered that evening was cold bottled water. The porter made up our beds by the time we got to Don Muang, and Mom shut her curtains and tried to sleep after that. I stayed up and read until we passed Ayudthaya, the old capital city, and then I drifted off as well. While the enclosed air-conditioned car (which was frigid) kept out the noise of stations and station announcements, nothing softened the rocking, jerking, and swaying of these old train cars on old train tracks. We were awakened several times and it was rough on Mom. For me, it was reliving every train memory in my memory banks and a pure joy! The next morning, I saw the beautiful Thai rain-drenched countryside of Northern Thailand between Lampang and Chiangmai and it was worth all the lost sleep.
When we arrived in Chiangmai – less than an hour behind schedule – we were met by incredible friends: Kathryn McDaniel and almost the entire Sa’adprai family, our adopted family in Thailand. Our wonderful porter pulled and pushed our luggage off of the train, where “A” and “O” (Mom’s granddaughters from our Thai family) put them on a cart and we all headed for the car. The eight pieces and all the people squeezed into two cars and we headed for the Galare Guest House on the Ping River by the Nowarrat Bridge. Once we check in to the Guest House, Mom and I invited everyone to join us for lunch, which was a wonderful Thai meal with lots of rice, stir-fry and curry to go around. It was a deeply satisfying feeling to be back in Chiangmai and surrounded by friends.
Other memorable shots: